The Toronto Blue Jays are in a position where an extension for Vladdy is on everyone’s mind. There is no reason why a deal can’t be done
The Blue Jays Winter Tour returned to Canada for the first time in years in January, due to COVID 19 restrictions and last year the lockout. Select Blue Jays players came to Vancouver and Toronto to interact with fans, and get people thinking about baseball with spring training approaching soon. Vladimir Guerrero Jr.was one of the players at the Toronto events. He spoke to the media and among other things, mentioned that he is open to discussing a long term contract extension but that Blue Jays management has not yet approached him to initiate talks. Some fans wonder why they are waiting to do so.
It’s not that there is a huge rush or anything. He isn’t free agent eligible until the 2025 season is over. But every year a deal doesn’t get done, the price likely goes up. Moreover, the risk is that he could leave the team when he is able to do so. Guerrero isn’t the only Jays star player they need to consider in terms of their future. Bo Bichette, as well as Guerrero, is free agent eligible after the 2025 season.
Based on things that Bichette has said and done, I believe that one of his priorities is to maximize his earnings. The best way to make certain a player is getting top dollar is to test free agency once he is eligible. I still hope that this ends up being with the Blue Jays. As Jays From the Couch editor Shaun Doyle pointed out in a Side Session, the Jays have just over $65 million in payroll commitments for the 2026 season (Springer, Gausman and Berrios for anyone wondering). The money SHOULDN’T be what stops the Jays from retaining the services of both Guerrero and Bichette long term. But Bichette’s deal might happen by re-signing him as a free agent rather than by an extension.
For now, I am focusing on an extension for Guerrero. Will the Blue Jays and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.come to terms on a long term contract extension and if so, when might this happen? For a number of reasons, I think it will happen but not until next off season.
Here is my reasoning:
The Jays and Guerrero came to terms on a 1 year, $14.5 million contract, avoiding arbitration, which was ever so slightly less than the projected arbitration award of $14.8 million (had it gotten that far). I might be reading too much in to that, but I find it significant that he was willing to accept a tiny bit less than he was projected to get. When the time comes, I have no doubt that Guerrero will expect to be paid “in the ballpark” with the game’s other top stars. But maybe, just maybe, he won’t be trying to get any kind of record breaking deal.
Assuming that the Jays would like to retain Vlad’s services long term, why not just sign him to a contract extension now, rather than the one year deal? One likely reason has to do with team payroll. The CBT (competitive balance threshold) in 2023 is $233 million. The Jays’ payroll is close to $244 million, and there is still a possibility that they aren’t done adding to the team. It is the first time in club history that they have exceeded the CBT, and will pay a penalty as a result.
As a Blue Jays fan, I am over the moon that ownership cares more about giving the team the best chance they can to win than they do staying under the CBT. That said, I’m sure they don’t have an unlimited budget. They still want to try to be smart about money management and it probably doesn’t make much sense to them to extend Guerrero now because whenever, wherever he signs a long term deal, I’m pretty sure the AAV will be a lot higher than $14.5 million. Why pay an even higher penalty when Guerrero will still be under team control through the end of the 2025 season? There is still time to extend him.
In 2024, the $20 million they are paying Hyun-Jin Ryu comes off the books, as does the $4,333,333 they retained of Randal Grichuk‘s salary. Put those two amounts together with Guerrero’s 2023 salary and they have over $38 million to play with, without having a higher payroll than they currently do. It’s easy to see why an extension make more sense for the club a year from now than it does now.
There are other options. The Boston Red Sox signed their star player, Rafael Devers to a 1 year contract, avoiding arbitration. A while later, it was announced they had signed him to a 10 year, $313.5 million contract which begins in 2024. By structuring the two deals this way, the Sox have the much smaller CBT hit this season. So why don’t the Jays do something like this with Vlad?
Another likely issue is Guerrero’s inconsistent performance. Long before his MLB debut, baseball fans heard that the oldest son of MLB hall of famer Vladimir Guerrero was a generational talent. It appeared that 2021 was a breakout season for him. He had a wRC+ of 166, fWAR of 6.3 and finished second in AL MVP voting. He might have won the award in many other seasons if it weren’t for Shohei Ohtani‘s excellent performance as both a hitter and a pitcher. 2022 unfortunately saw him regress significantly. Though his wRC+ of 132 was still very good, it wasn’t close to what it had been a season earlier. His fWAR was only 2.8.
So what does that mean for Blue Jays management? Are they waiting to see if he can return to his 2021 stellar performance before they open up the bank vault? Baseball is a business after all and it might not make good business sense for them to pay him based on his 2021 performance if they are legitimately concerned that he might be closer to his 2022 performance on a yearly basis. Maybe they don’t want to “reward” what for him is likely a sub-par season with a big pay day.
Along with all Blue Jays fans, I hope Guerrero has a monster season in 2023 (helping lead them to a deep playoff run). Once that happens, and with additional payroll flexibility a year from now, I’m hopeful that we will be celebrating Guerrero’s long term future in Toronto.
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